Detroit Red Wings: Measuring Jimmy Howard against his peers

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 19: Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings looks on against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on March 19, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 19: Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings looks on against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on March 19, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images) /

Nearing the close of this season, rumors started circling that Jimmy Howard would stay in Detroit for one more year. On Wednesday, those rumors proved correct. Howard and the Detroit Red Wings inked a one-year deal worth four million dollars, plus another $1.1 million in potential bonuses.

As discussed last week, the Detroit Red Wings confirmed a one-year extension for goalie Jimmy Howard. How does this compare to similar contracts around the league? Using CapFriendly, we are able to sort several comparable contracts in recent history and then measure Howard against them. The following are three similar contracts listed in chronological order.

In 2013, Niklas Backstrom signed a three-year deal continuing his career with the Minnesota Wild. He was eventually traded to Calgary in 2016 and ended his NHL career following the season (he continues to play professionally in Finland). At the time of his contract signing, he was 35 years old, the same age Howard is now. The season prior, 2012-13, saw Backstrom as the primary Wild goalie. He started a majority (41) of the lockout-shortened season, winning 24 of them. The following season, however, Backstrom’s minutes were down and goals against were up.

He was relegated to a second or third fiddle role in 2013 when none of the Wild goalies played in even 30 games. He played in even fewer games the next season, and the goals against continued to climb. During this 35+ contract, Backstrom was involved in a “goalie by committee” situation, something Howard currently is not. This explains the difference in the salary: Backstrom’s $3.5 million per year to Howard’s $5.1. Through this lens, the Red Wings are getting a bit of a deal with Howard.

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Two years ago, Craig Anderson signed a two-year extension with the Ottawa Senators for $4.75 million a year. He was 37 years old when he signed. When the deal was originally done, the Senators were a different team than they are now. They finished the previous season with 98 points, losing in the conference finals to the Penguins. Anderson split his time in net with the younger goalie, Mike Condon. Just two years later, the Senators have joined the Detroit Red Wings at the bottom of the league, and Anderson continues to share time, now with Anders Nilsson. We cannot make assumptions on the team trajectory, though, based on the goalie alone. But we can compare the players themselves.

Comparing Anderson with Howard is not difficult. On signing their respective contracts, both had played a hair over 500 games. They have nearly identical save percentages, although Howard faces many more shots (and thus, allowing more goals). Like Howard, Anderson was named an All-Star the season before earning the contract. In the two years since the contract, Anderson’s numbers have taken a dip.

Despite starting a majority of the games in that time period, Anderson has registered two of the worst statistical seasons in his career, lodging his fewest quality starts in years. Using Anderson as a predictor, we may expect to see Howard take a similar slide next year.

Last November, the Nashville Predators extended Pekka Rinne’s contract for two years, worth $5 million per year. Of these three goalies, this is the closest to Howard’s contract. Both players will make roughly the same amount of money, and Rinne is closer in age than the aforementioned Anderson.

Why did the Preds extend Rinne? Simply put, they are ready to win a Stanley Cup right now. Rinne has put them in a position to do so; he is the most recent recipient of the Vezina Trophy recognizing the best goalie in the NHL.

Because his contract is so recent, we cannot know how it will play out in the coming seasons. Instead, he will be a barometer against which to compare Jimmy Howard’s play. Of course, their situations are much different. Nashville is a much better team than Detroit.

Their defense, for instance, has allowed close to 300 fewer shots on goal than Detroit this season. Other facets normalized, though, Rinne will be a good representative to compare Howard’s contract in the coming season.

All of the above contracts are obviously multi-year deals. It is not common to find a goalie this young (but still over 35) and with this much experience (500+ games played) to sign a contract for just one year. To find similar situations, we could go back to 2014, where Nikolai Khabibulin and Martin Brodeur signed one-year deals. They were 40 and 42, respectively.

Next. Reading between the lines of a Jeff Blashill extension. dark

As we enumerated last week, this is a good move for both Jimmy Howard and the Detroit Red Wings. This contract is fairly par-for-the-course: the Wings have a solid netminder for a decent price, yet they are not shackled to a multi-year commitment. Finding future talent will be the next step. Whether that comes from the draft, prospects, or free agency remains to be seen.